I take it with me when I travel and put it on every night stand—whether I’m staying with friends, in hotels in Europe, or Airbnbs in the middle of nowhere. Not as a keepsake of you, because we both know I got rid of everything and my keepsakes are the lessons you taught me. I keep it because it reminds me every day that life can change in an instant. That night changed me. You changed me. 

I still wonder, four years later, how is it that you’re actually gone. I wonder if you’d recognize me today. I’m not the same you know. You changed me while you were here and when you left. 

For exactly 9 months, you taught me to love myself. To stand up for myself. To trust in God. To be patient. To give people the benefit of the doubt. To cherish each moment. To embrace my inner child. To play. Not to pretend. To be real, even if people didn’t like it. Watching you taught me that it was possible to transform daily, to improve myself daily. Often, we think it takes time to change a behavior. But you just wanted it, so you did it; overnight, day after day, you were a new man. 

And then you left. And you taught me I would survive breaking. That I was capable of being deaf to the stupid things people said out of their own helplessness but that I could also just be real and say why it hurt. That I didn’t owe anyone an explanation for how I was grieving. You reminded me, as you said yourself when you were alive, “even if it’s not forever, I’m going to appreciate every moment I have with you.” So, I cherished each moment and still do. You taught me to be real about the things I didn’t love and that it was also okay to be mad at you even though you aren’t here. You showed me that I had so much more to go in loving myself but that it was possible. Your absence taught me that it was okay to break, to feel my emotions, without knowing if I’d make it out the other side. You forced me to find the value in the people I didn’t know how to connect with but who loved you so much. Who you loved so much when no one else saw them. You taught me how to really see people. You taught me to accept my flaws and embrace my strengths. You taught me how to move forward without moving on. How to love you more without freezing my life or letting you go. 

You taught me to always explore new parts of myself. To know that I am increasingly expansive. You showed me that I have so much love to give, plenty for another man and the world, and that love is cultivated and, at all times, continues to expand.  You taught me how to forgive. You allowed me to be honest about the excruciating pain and the joyous memories through the tears. 

David and I

You forced me to trust the process and circumstances when I couldn’t be by your side as you went in the ground. You forced me to believe that your soul lived on and have proven it time and time again. You helped me to see that I could help others by knowing their pain. 

You turned me into a beautiful butterfly. I’m not the same person I was when you left. I have wings and a crown. My heart is whole, and my spirit soars. I’m no longer afraid of my tears. I’m no longer afraid of anything. I still miss you each day, but you gave me a new mission and I know you’re living yours. I guess you would still recognize me, even though I look completely different. After all, you know my soul. David, your death gave birth to me. 

And all because I bought this bus ticket on this day four years ago. A reminder each morning that my entire life could change today, in an instant.